The Civil War in North Carolina

Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians

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and when later, on account of insults and injuries of France, our Government made preparations for active hostilities, the entire militia of Brunswick County, officers and men, roused to enthusiasm by an address from him full of energy and fire, volunteered to follow his lead in the legionary corps raised for service against the enemy. The confidence of his countrymen in his wisdom and integrity was shown by their fifteen times electing him to the Senate of the State. From this post he was chosen by the General Assembly as our Chief Executive in 1810, when war with England was constantly expected, and by large numbers earnestly desired. The charter of the University was granted in 1789. The trustees were the great men of that day--the leaders in war and in peace.

        Of this band of eminent men, Benjamin Smith was a worthy member. He is entitled to the signal honor of being the first benefactor of the infant institution, the leader of the small corps of liberal supporters of education in North Carolina. For that reason alone his name should be revered by all the long line of students who call the University their Alma Mater--by every one who desires the enlightenment of our people.

        The Trustees met, for organization, in Fayetteville, on November 15th, 1790, choosing as their chairman Colonel William Lenoir, the Speaker of the Senate. General Smith gladdened these hearts by the munificent donation of patents for twenty thousand acres of land in Western Tennessee. A large portion of them was a gift to him for his gallant services during the dark hours of the Revolution. They were the price of liberty. They were the offering of a generous heart and a wise head, which knew well that liberty could not be preserved without education--that ignorance must be slain or vice will be the ruler of our land.

        Generation after generation grew up and passed away. Year after year young men, their mental armor supplied and burnished through his wisdom and liberality, went from the University walls to become sources of good influence in all our land, from the Potomac to the Rio Grande. The institution he loved so well, after many vicissitudes of trials and sufferings, had become wealthy and prosperous. Nearly five hundred matriculates every year entered their names on its roll to partake of its instruction. The revered donor had drunk to its dregs the cup of bitterness. His too generous disposition and misplaced confidence in others had deprived him of his wealth. His once strong and vigorous body had been wasted by disease and racked by pain. In poverty and in wretchedness he had long since sunk into his grave under the weeping moss of the great swamp trees. Sixty years after his generous gift the trustees of the University honored themselves by bestowing his name on a beautiful structure devoted to literature and to science. The sacrifices of the old hero were not in vain. His monument is more enduring than marble or brass. Centuries will come and go. Men's fortunes will wax and wane. But the blessings of the gift of Benjamin Smith nearly a hundred years ago will never cease, and his name will keep green forever.


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